As Kashmiri journalists were grappling with the closure of the Press Club, Jammu and Kashmir government has invoked preventive detention law known as Public Safety Act (PSA) against a Kashmiri journalist and took him out of Kashmir Valley for imprisonment.
On January 5, the police arrested 23-year-old journalist Sajad Gul from his home in the Hajin area of Bandipora district of north Kashmir. The family says he was taken away from home by the army and later the police charged him under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505B (fear or alarm to the public) of the Indian Penal Code.
Ten days later, on January 15, a district court in Bandipora granted Gul bail in a criminal conspiracy levelled against him by police. He, however, was not released as the police claimed his name has surfaced in another FIR registered earlier under sections 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of an offence committed in prosecution of common object) and 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code early this month.
Subsequently, the police booked him under PSA and took him to Jammu’s Kotbalwal jail for imprisonment.
Editor, The Kashmir Walla, Fahad Shah tells Outlook that the police couldn’t establish any case against his reporter Sajad Gul and took the easy route of the PSA to keep him away from circulation and thus reportage.
“Sajad’s elder brother Zahoor Ahmad called me at midnight on January 5 saying that Sajad was taken by army personnel from home and there is no news about him. He wasn't himself at home and his family was worried.”
“I called a few people first to check if he was fine, where he was. I was told Sajad was with the army and the next day he was given to the police. The family and we were informed by police that he is under custody and there is a case against him. I have been in touch with his family daily since he has been arrested,” says Shah.
He says once it was confirmed he was in custody and there was a case, he immediately called one of the lawyers and asked him to prepare for the bail application. “It was Saturday, so we had to wait two days. On Monday, our lawyer filed the bail application and the case has been going on in a local court. We were sure he would get the bail. However, at the same time, our lawyer received multiple calls from various people telling why he associated himself with Kashmir Walla by representing Sajad in court. As you would know, Sajad has been a contributor to us for a very long time and finally last December he joined us formally. So, it was our responsibility to stand with him and give him all the legal aid required,” says Shah.
He says the case is like many other cases but in this case, one must understand that organizations need to trust their reporters. “This is not the only case we are fighting - we also have an ongoing case in the High Court in which we have challenged an FIR filed against us by the Army in Shopian over a story. That case has been going on since March 2021,” he adds.
“In Sajad's case, we have another FIR when he did a story on a demolition drive and he was booked for that story too. It is important for publications to own their reporters and by being with Sajad that is the example we want to set - that you can't abandon the very same people who are reporting for you in the very critical circumstances in Kashmir,” Shah says. He says the police realized that the cases against his reporter will not stand judicial scrutiny during the Court hearings; they booked him under the preventive detention law to keep him out of circulations. “We are challenging his detention under the PSA as well but the move to slap the PSA on our reporter shows that the government no case against him and he was booked for his reportage,” he added.
The PSA dossier accuses Gul of using social media to “provoke people against the government despite being educated.”
“You have always made/tweeted controversial statements on social media and being a journalist you are less reporting about the welfare of UT rather enmity. You are running a tweet account upon the ID SajadGul_ and use the same for your nefarious designs,” the dossier reads.
The dossier accuses Gul of uploading a video on social media highlighting anti-national slogans raised by people in a house of killed militant Saleem Parray on January 3, 2022. The dossier accuses him of provoking people against the government established by the law. It also alleges that he always makes controversial statements and provokes people on social media. “Even a layman can judge your intentions, activities by visiting or accessing your social media timeline. Your activities seem to be prejudicial to the sovereignty, security, peace and tranquillity of the union of India. Thus, being a potential threat to law and order as well as to sovereignty, integrity, and security of Union of India if kept at large will surely act against the peaceful atmosphere which has been established by the tireless efforts of the law enforcing agencies,” the dossier reads.
The dossier goes further and says it is easy for Gul to manipulate the people of the Valley as he has a good number of followers and is well educated.
“You may play a key role in instigating, provoking not only the youth of your locality but of the whole valley as you have a good number of followers on social media. Besides, it is easy for you to manipulate people of the valley towards your ill intentions as you are well qualified and can brainwash people easily against the government established by the law,” says the dossier.
Shah calls the dossier a joke. “That is just bizarre. Gul was only reporting what people were doing or telling him. There is no point in criminalising a messenger if the people are expressing anger or are critical of the government. With 1000 followers on Twitter, one young journalist was brainwashing the whole valley is a joke.”